The superfast progression of the electronics world is changing global demand for rare metals, and new sources are now being examined. Since most rare metals are found in the ores of major industrial metals, such as copper and nickel, they have been dubbed ‘hitchhikers’. They are often the by-products of base metal mining and there are currently few dedicated rare metal mines.
This study by Ayers and Peiró (2013) examines the potentially large role recycling will play in the future. Most electrical and electronic equipment today contains small amounts of rare metals that have no substitutes. With the current recycling of mobile phones, for example, at just 3%, we can expect a growing focus on this area.
However, there are several barriers to the recycling of equipment containing hitchhikers. The recovery of valuable metals is extremely capital intensive, and many recycling initiatives, such as the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive, are not yet fully supported by legislation. The study recommends some new recycling incentives for both consumer and producer, and supports the possible use of radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags to track electrical equipment carrying rare metals.
Full Citation: Ayres, R.U. and Peiró, L.T. (2013) ‘Material Efficiency: Rare and Critical Metals’, Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A, 371, 20110563. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23359734